1 John 4:8

Sermon preached on January 27, 2002 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

"In 1900 physicists were feeling pretty smug. Many of them thought they had the universe taped. The majestic clockwork wound up by Isaac Newton was running exactly as predicted. Subsequent discoveries in fields as diverse as heat, light and electricity all seemed to fit into the grand scheme of things. New telescopes were mapping the heavens and revealing that the earth and its sun were part of a huge but measurable star system, the Milky Way, that seemed to encompass the whole universe. Exactly what an atom was remained to be determined, and there were a few puzzling discoveries, such as cathode rays and radioactivity. But these could surely be fitted in. Basically, it was just a matter of dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s.A few years later, it was all over. People realized that far from knowing everything, they knew almost nothing. Two hypotheses, quantum theory and relativity, and two discoveries, the atomic nucleus and the fact that the Milky Way was not alone, but was one of a zillion similar galaxies did not merely upset the apple cart, they scattered its contents right over the road. It has taken a century to pick the apples up and order them neatly again."

(The Myth-Makers, From The Economist, Jan 3, 2002)

You all know the old saying, "The more you learn, the more you realize how much there is to know."That happed to physicists last century. But the old saying is not only true of the universe, but it's true of other things as well.

Our God is like that. There are treasures in Him that we will never exhaust. Think of His love. I know that the angels never ever assumed that they had God all figured out, yet the fact is that
1 Peter 1:12 teaches us that the angels were amazed when the Old Testament prophets began to predict the sufferings of Christ. Peter wrote,

"Even angels long
to look into these things."

They were astounded by the prophecies. They wanted to know more about them. Donald Macleod, (Behold Your God, p. 144) comments on God's love, refers to it in terms of,

"its stupendous unexpectedness."

The fact is that God is so much greater than we can take in that for all eternity we will be learning more about Him but never coming anywhere near exhausting the treasures that are in Him. Even now we grasp so little of His love. Remember what Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians? He prayed that they would, (Ephesians 3:18-19)

"have power,
together with all the saints,
to grasp how wide and long
and high and deep is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge"

God's love is so great, so stupendous, so marvelous, so amazing—that our minds have trouble grasping it. It is so wonderful that we have difficulty taking it in. There are depths to it that are difficult for us to fathom.

But we must try. To this end this morning I want to look at some aspects of God's love which I hope will help us praise and glorify Him better. The God that we serve is wonderful and glorious. There is none like Him. He is perfect in every way. Thankfully for us, He is a God of love. Our text reads,

God is love.

The first thing I want you to see about God's love is that

It is at the very core of His being.

God's very nature is love. Hermann Bavinck writes, (Doctrine of God, p. 209)

"love is identical with God's being."

Donald Macleod surveys the biblical teaching about God and concludes, (Behold Your God, p. 143)

"Love is His innermost nature. He not simply has love or exercises love. It is His very form that He looks on the things of others (Philippians 2:4f.) and it is in this above all that He stands forth not as an abstraction but as a person, confronting others in the offer of fellowship (1 John 1:3)."

God is love.

Now we're certainly not to set any of God's attributes against one another. We saw that last week in regard to God's holiness. God is perfect and each of His attributes is identical with His whole being.

Yet, having said that, we must give prominence to the emphasis that the Bible places on God's love. God is love. He has always been love. He deals with us in love. Without His love we would all end up in hell. Without His love, this world would be a living hell.
Donald Macleod writes, (p. 143)

"nothing bears more closely upon our plight than the revelation of God's love. We are tiny, lonely specks on the face of an almost infinite universe, quantitatively insignificant, involved in a sequence of events in which all is vanity, and constantly threatened, individually and collectively, by the march of history. Yet into this sense of insecurity and lack of identity there shines the love of God. We matter: we matter immensely. That is what lightens our darkness, what redeems our lives from the threat of meaninglessness and causes our hearts to make melody always and in all things."

God is love. It is because of His love that all the joy and happiness that we have comes to us. Without His love, our existence would be unthinkingly horrible. How thankful we ought to be that God is love. Every moment of our lives we should praise Him for this.

God is love.

He has always been love.

We see this in God even before the creation of the world. God's love is an attribute that is not exclusively related to creation. Some attributes of God only become manifest in relation to creation. God's anger is like that. Before creation, before sin, God's anger was not manifested.

But love was manifested even before creation. In
John 17:24 Jesus said,

"Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory,
the glory you have given me
because you loved me
before the creation of the world."

Before the creation of the world there was love between the persons of the Trinity. Donald Macleod writes, (p. 150)

"God is love, eternally and quite independently of creation."

Before the creation of the world God expressed His love in the fellowship of the Trinity. Donald Macleod continues, (p. 150)

"In the beginning, there was not only God, but God with God: 'the Word was with God'. Indeed, if we may translate literally, 'the Word was towards God'. There was an ongoing in affection and glory between the Father and the Son and between the Son and the Spirit. The Father and the Son are not so distinct that they are two separate beings. But they are so distinct that the one is the object of the other's love. To each, the other is the beloved."

God is all joy and blessedness in Himself. Each of the persons of the Trinity communicates that joy and blessedness to the others. God is love. He has loved from all eternity. It is one of His defining characteristics.

The second thing I want you to see about God's love is that

it is infinitely superior to our love.

God's love is 'agape' love. Our text reads, 'Theos agape estin'. God is love. None of the common Greek words for love was adequate for describing God's love. The Greek word 'philia' meaning friendship was inadequate. 'Storge' relating to family affection was inadequate, as was 'eros' which referred to romantic love. Donald Macleod adds, (p. 144)

"The affection of which they all spoke was natural. It was rooted either in blood relationship or in physical attraction or in loveliness of character or in affinity of personality."

But what is 'agape' love like? It's a love that embraces one's enemies. It's a love that is self-sacrificing. It's a love that spares no cost. Let's consider God's 'agape' love.

First of all,

It is a love that embraces His enemies.

You all know John 3:16.

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish
but have eternal life."

God loved the 'world'. The 'world' in that passage, (B.B. Warfield)

"is just a synonym for all that is evil and noisome and disgusting."

We human beings tend to love those who love us. But that kind of love is far below the love that is in God. Jesus taught us about this in Matthew 5:43f. He said,

"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you,
what reward will you get?
Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing more than others?
Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."

God loves His enemies. Donald Macleod tells us that God showing love to those who don't deserve it, (p. 151)

"is the very glory of the Father's perfection."

God loves even those who don't deserve it. As the psalmist said in Psalm 145:17,

"The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made."

God loves even those who rebel against Him. Rather than casting Adam and Eve into hell as soon as they sinned—He gave them the promise of a Redeemer. (Genesis 3:15) In Luke 13:34 we read of Jesus' anguish over Jerusalem. He said,

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
you who kill the prophets
and stone those sent to you,
how often I have longed
to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,
but you were not willing!"

Think of Jesus words about the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross. He said, (Luke 23:34)

"Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing."

Or think of how He dealt with Saul of Tarsus. Acts 9:1 tells us that Saul was,

"still breathing out murderous threats
against the Lord's disciples.
He went to the high priest
and asked him for letters
to the synagogues in Damascus,
so that if he found any there
who belonged to the Way, whether men or women,
he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

And what did God do? Did He send lightening from the sky and strike him dead? No. He converted Him. He showed him His glory. God saved him.

Later he spoke about the work of Jesus this way. (
Romans 5:10)

"For if, when we were God's enemies,
we were reconciled to him
through the death of his Son,
how much more,
having been reconciled,
shall we be saved through his life!"

God's love encompasses even those who are evil. It encompasses sinners. In Romans 5:8 Paul wrote,

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us."

God's love embraces us even when we sin against Him.

Lamentations 3:22 says,

"Because of the LORD's great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail."

Remember how Peter denied Jesus, how he called down curses upon himself. How did God treat Peter then? Luke 22:61 tells us that right after Peter's third denial,

"The Lord turned
and looked straight at Peter."

It was a look of love that brought Peter back to Jesus.

Now for Christians, this means that

you can be absolutely assured that God always loves you.

He loves you in spite of your imperfections. J.I. Packer, says that God's love is, (Knowing God, p. 37)

"based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me."

God loves us in spite of our sin, in spite of our imperfections. He will not cease to love us. Quite the contrary, He has promised that He will never take His love from us, that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will lift us up out of our sin and misery and bring us to glory.

For you who aren't in Christ this means that

you should go to Jesus.

You should accept His invitation of eternal life. Christ loves you so much that He offers to be your Savior. Accept Him. Listen to His words in Matthew 11:28-30,

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

God loves sinners. That's why He came to die. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but longs that people turn to Him in repentance. (Ezekiel 33:11)

God wills all men to be saved. He has provided a salvation exactly suited to your needs. It will take care of all your sin and give you the righteousness that you need. Christ died for sinners. You're a sinner. If you go to Christ, He will accept you. In
John 6:37 Jesus said,

"whoever comes to me
I will never drive away."

The second aspect of God's love that I want to direct your attention to is the fact that

God's love spares no cost.

It is love that involves self-sacrifice. It was love that involved the Father giving His Son. It was love that involved Jesus taking our nature upon Himself, of Him bearing our sin, taking the wrath that was due to our sins and dying for them. Romans 8:32 says of the Father,

"He who did not spare his own Son,
but gave him up for us all —
how will he not also,
along with him,
graciously give us all things?"

God's love is a self-sacrificing love. As John 3:16 says,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish
but have eternal life."

We dare not minimize the cost to the Father of giving Jesus up.

The Bible gives us some insight into the anguish of fathers who have been faced with the destruction of their sons. Remember Abram at the altar with Isaac, following God's command to offer up Isaac. Can you image how he must have felt when Isaac said to him, (Genesis 22:7)

"Father? The fire and wood are here,
but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Or think about David's anguish in losing Absalom. He went up to his room weeping and saying, (2 Samuel 18:33)

"O my son Absalom!
My son, my son Absalom!
If only I had died instead of you —

O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Donald Macleod comments, (p. 148)

"These are but shadows of the cost to God, as the love of these fathers for their sons was but a faint reflection of God's love for us."

Or think of God's words in Hosea 11:8-9 about His love. He said,

"How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man —
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath."

Donald Macleod writes, (p. 148)

"With what hesitation and misgivings and reluctance and sorrow did such a God—who does not at any time afflict willingly and for whom judgment is a strange work—with what reluctance does He bruise His Son and awake His sword against His very fellow!"

Think of Jesus on the cross.

Think of how He complained to His Father,

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"

He took our sins upon Himself. He fulfilled the words of Psalm 22. He undertook God's wrath on our behalf. Donald Macleod tells us that Jesus suffered,

"with such effect that what He suffered His church will never suffer. They will never know the depths out of which He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34)."

Who died for us? Who shed His blood for us? It was God. In Acts 20:28 the apostle Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesian church with these words,

"Keep watch over yourselves
and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit
has made you overseers.
Be shepherds of the church of God,
which he bought with his own blood."

Although God exists in three persons we must never lose sight of the fact that God is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4) Donald Macleod comments, (p. 149)

"The implications of this for the doctrine of the atonement are far-reaching. The judge and the victim are not two different beings. Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), just as the Lord is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). On Calvary, Jehovah condemns sin. He curses it. He puts it outside (Hebrews 13:12). Equally, however, He bears it. He imputes it to Himself. He receives its wages. He becomes Himself its propitiation. He becomes the sinner's ransomÖ. In the last analysis, God expresses His love for us not by putting another to suffer in our place but by Himself taking our place. He meets the whole cost of our forgiveness in Himself by exacting it of Himself. He demands the ransom. He provides the ransom. He becomes the ransom. Herein is love."

How you should love God. He has done so much for you.

The third thing about God's love I want you to see is that

it is love that has a goal that it will reach.

Donald Macleod says, (p. 146)

"Calvary also underlines the fact that the divine agape will not rest until it has bestowed upon us the very highest benefits. This love is in order to our having 'eternal life'."

God's love is so extravagant. God wants to give you of His heavenly life. He intends to raise you to the very highest place.

Christians, God's love is all around you right now. His love demands that all things are working together for your good. God's love ensures that goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. God's love gives us every spiritual blessing. It gives us everything we need for life and godliness. God's love insures that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Macleod writes, (p. 147)

"Above all, it gives us a share in God's love for His own Son. Christ prays, 'That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them' (John 17:26). On the face of it, it is incredible that the Father should love us with the very love which He has for His Son. Yet this is the plain meaning of this kind of passageÖ. The manner of God's love for us is that we, with Him, should be called the sons of GodÖ We are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) We have the same inheritance. He is ours. He is for us. Nothing could be more extravagant than that. We are part of the fellowship of the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3) and, consequently, Paul can pray, in respect of every Christian, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19)

Macleod continues, (p. 154)

"He so loves them that He has prepared a kingdom for them and has undertaken to do all in His power to bring them to that destiny. His electing love is a total, unqualified commitment to His own people. In their case He does not only send out invitations and plead with them. He is not content merely to weep over them. He creates in them the response He commands, opening their hearts and uniting them to ChristÖ. He has not only made their salvation possible and freely available. He applies it to each of them and cares for them, meticulously and sedulously, until they are completely Christ-like. He specifically and actually saves them."

Macleod concludes, (p. 154)

"As the incident at the anointing at Bethany shows, it is of the very essence of love to be careless about cost. Mary's affection can find expression only in a deed which, to the onlookers, is utterly wasteful. God's giving His Son for the world is surely in the same category. The elder brother is introduced into the parable of the Prodigal precisely to highlight the fact that love goes beyond the bounds of reason when it makes so splendid a provision for such a wastrel. God's love will not rest until it has placed His people in the very glory which Christ with the Father before the world was. They will be hyper-conquerors (Romans 8:37) and hyper-exalted (Philippians 2:9)"

Why are our hearts so cold? Why are we so reluctant to give our all for Him?

We need to be like Mary. She took a jar of very expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. Some who saw it rebuked her harshly, saying that the perfume could have been sold for year's wages and the money given to the poor. But Jesus commended her and told them that she had done a beautiful thing for him, preparing him for burial. How she loved Him. How we should love Him. What a God we have!